In the Gym With Chris Arreola!
SPECIAL REPORT as May 14 Bout Nears
I never thought I’d be asking Chris Arreola for diet tips.
After all, the heavyweight has received more attention for his jiggling belly than for his fisticuffs in the ring.
But in meeting up with the Riverside slugger at “Indian” Willie Schunke’s private gym in the Inland Empire, while greeting Arreola (30-2, 26 KOs), I wondered out loud how he’s dropped the weight for his upcoming bout this Saturday against Nagy Aguilera (16-5, 11 KOs) at the Home Depot Center in Carson. You may remember Aguilera for loss against light heavy Antonio Tarver in the “Magic Man’s” bid at heavyweight. Arreola and Aguilera will be the co-feature along with the Andre Ward-Arthur Abraham clash airing on Showtime.
In the last few weeks, word around town was that Chris–who’s fought as high as 271–was sporting a more toned physique. But training to lose weight and training to make a statement in a fight are two different things. And the Latino boxer, nicknamed “The Nightmare,” has been resoundly criticized for his noticeable girth, lack of discipline and some say lack of respect while receiving great opportunities to become the first Mexican-American heavyweight champ.
So as we walked down the hill leading into Indian’s boxing gym, I asked the WBC Fecombox titlist what’s his secret in shedding the weight. After a week long vacation, I was feeling the after effects of all-you-can-eat meals 24/7 while on a cruise. “Oh! Cruises are the WORST for gaining weight!” laughed Arreola, notorious for his Hall of Fame appetite. “All you do is drink and eat,” he said knowingly. “Then you eat and drink again–and again. And that’s all you do!”
“So tell me how you’ve lost the weight?” I said looking up at Chris, who was hovering under the 245 mark last weekend. The camp says he’s aiming for 235-240, maybe even lower.
“Just watching what I eat with my diet and working out a lot,” a now serious Arreola replied.
“No more beer and tacos?” I questioned the heavyweight.
“NOPE!” he grinned after sensing a touch of skepticism in my voice.
“What about Oreo cookies?” I asked, quizzing him about his newfound willpower matched against his love of the black and white sweets.
“No drinking–and NO cookies!” maintained Chris, who fights under Goossen Tutor Promotions.
Indeed, Team Nightmare confirmed that the “Big Guy” has given up the booze and the sweets in his rededication to the sport. While he probably won’t be rockin’ the skinny jeans while showing off his thinner physique, this new discipline in training gives his loyal believers some hope.
Some remember the fighter as a very talented–and skinny–amateur whose weight ballooned as he climbed up the heavyweight ranks as a pro. After high-profile losses to Vitali Klitschko and Tomasz Adamek, Arreola and his camp have been trying to rebuild his career and credibility as a top contender and viable champion who deserves another shot at the top. After wins over Brian Minto, Manuel Quezada and Joey Abell, Chris will now face 24-year-old Aguilera from the Dominican Republic, who besides Antonio Tarver, has also fought Sam Peter, Oleg Maskaev, Maurice Harris, among others. Critics await and watch this rebuilding phase of Chris’ career while the team once again say he’s a changed man.
On this recent Saturday morning, two things already stood out in this version of Chris Arreola, who insists he is taking the fight game much more seriously this time. The first clue was his roadwork. In the past, the heavyweight was known for his dislike of running. But while heading into the gym, I heard him tell my pal, veteran boxing scribe and his fellow Riverside neighbor, Bill O’Neill, “I pass by your house all the time while I’m running!” Steady roadwork for a guy never known to be a fan of jogging or sprints? Yes, Arreola has been putting in the all-important roadwork.
The second clue of his new discipline was the fact he arrived on time to the gym and well…the fact that he arrived at all. It’s been well-documented that the popular boxer, known for his sense of humor, playfulness and colorful personality, was also known for going AWOL and not showing up at the gym at all. In fact, his nickname is “Lunes” (meaning Monday in Spanish) because when trainer Henry Ramirez would ask him when he’s coming to the gym, Chris would always say, “Monday!” but never make good on the promise.
But that seems to be a thing of the past for this particular camp. Chris was right on time and with a surprise guest in tow, his cute 9-year-old daughter, Danae.
The gym is closed to the public says owner, fight promoter, cutman and Arreola cornerman “Indian” Willie Schunke. But he opened up the doors to his gem of a gym to just a very small group on onlookers on this day, including writer O’Neill (who was also one of the very first World Boxing Hall of Fame Presidents) and boxing promoter and former WBHF President Ken Thompson (whose fighters Josesito Lopez and Jonathan Arellano train at Indian’s gym). Thompson shares a longstanding history with Arreola; several of Chris’ earliest victories were at Thompson Boxing Promotions’ fights in Ontario and Corona. Also in the gym were Everlast’s Ernie Gabion, the hardworking “Kool Krew” from the Koncrete Jungle, and two furry mascots in Tank and Holmes, the spunky English Bulldogs given to Schunke as a gift from Arreola.
Walking through the door, I instantly recognized some familiar faces from the ring. Mikey Garcia, the unbeaten NABF, WBO NABO Featherweight Champ also trains at Indian’s gym. He was there with his father and trainer Eduardo Garcia hitting the mitts before Arreola’s workout began.
Also working out were undefeated cruiserweight Lateef “Power” Kayode with Wild Card’s Jesse Arevalo, young heavyweight Alex Flores with trainer/manager Michael Love from the nearby Elite Boxing Academy and Roberto Crespo, a Henry Ramirez-trained amateur soon to go pro.
Everyone in the gym say they’ve all noticed his renewed sense in training. In the past, camps were held in Big Bear and out of state. For his last fight in January, Chris was shipped off to Texas to co-train with Henry and Ronnie Shields. This time there was no Lone Star State in the plans.
Team member Schunke shakes his head about training again in Houston. The busy cutman has worked with Arreola since the heavyweight’s third pro fight and is also in the corner of many other boxers including Josesito Lopez, Jonathan Arellano, Mike “Lil Warrior” Franco, and Mikey Garcia. He and his wife, Dolores, also run a company supplying gloves used at fights and as fight promoter, his II Feather Promotions with Al Franco are putting on the May 21 card at Morongo. As the cutman rolls gauze around Arreola’s fists on this nice calm day in Riverside County, it’s clear Chris is content training in Indian’s gym with no more Texas trips on the horizon.
“It’s not necessary to go to Texas,” affirms Bill O’Neill, as we take in the action around Indian’s spacious gym. “He’s doing great here.”
“He’s got a positive frame of mind; Chris is in magnificent shape. Whoever he’s fighting is in trouble!” Bill later says to me as we stand near the ropes during sparring. Earlier, when the heavily-tatted brawler stripped off his Marcus Allen #32 Raider jersey he was wearing, the eyes in the room zeroed in on his torso. While the heavyweight’s abs will never rival Mark Wahlberg’s stint as “Marky Mark” or even the Jersey Shores’ “The Situation,” his conditioning appears better–and even more crucial, Team Nightmare says his skills are “sharper” on the canvas.
“He lacked total dedication before. This is the first time in his life he’s really taking it seriously,” Bill, who wrote for Boxing Illustrated magazine, continued. “Chris is so much sharper in his movement and he’s dedicated himself–FINALLY!”
Chris was in good spirits as his pretty little daughter, Danae, jumped rope nearby, and later helping her dad with his hot pink boxing gloves. Arreola remains #1 in his daughter’s eyes. But the 9-year-old, while comfortable around a boxing gym, doesn’t want to grow up to be a fighter herself. Animal lover Danae says she plans on becoming a veterinarian.
While her father calmly sat across from Indian Willie as the cutman wrapped his hands, he did seem more grounded on this day. No joking around; no cursing. No hijinks–and not one F-Bomb dropped. Arreola casually turned the rap music up one time but a few seconds later trainer Ramirez turned the music down–just a bit. But just don’t play any Jay-Z in the gym; Henry’s not a big fan of Beyonce’s husband’s music.
So with Eminem’s “Cinderella Man” playing in the background, Arreola was focused as he warmed up and shadowboxed, sparred several rounds with Kayode, worked with 20-year-old heavyweight Alex Flores, before finishing up on the double-end bag.
Sparring previously against Travis Kauffman, today’s main sparring partner was the unbeaten contender “Power” Kayode, who will be facing Matt Godfrey on June 10. Against the taller Kayode, who is trained by Freddie Roach and managed by Steve Feder, Arreola traded some hard body shots during their fierce rounds of sparring.
Kayode, who’s own professional record remains perfect with 16 victories, says he’s sparred a few times with Arreola now. “He throws a lot of punches,” Nigerian-born Lateef nods about their spirited sessions, “and he hits HARD!”
While moving around the ring, Chris kept on the attack, the cardio not wearing him out too quickly with his stablemates pleased with what they were seeing.
“He’s determined! This is the best shape he’s been in and he’s working really hard,” Mikey Garcia told me, in regards to Arreola’s new focus. “No more jokes,” Garcia agreed. “He’s focused–AND hungry.”
Hungry for victory.
The hard-hitting Arreola is just 30 and if he stays on the right path, his camp says he can still fight for another shot at a world title.
This Saturday, the WBC Continental Americas and NABF Champ will fire off against the younger Nagy, nicknamed the “Dominican Dynamite.” For Chris, who fans know as “The Nightmare” from Riverside, who his trainer calls “Lunes,” and whom Schunke calls “The Big Guy,” a recent tag on Arreola has been the label of “The Big Disappointment” from certain critics, pundits and fans.
But there is one person in longtime trainer and close compadre, Henry Ramirez, who has total confidence in his rededicated and renewed fighter. After sparring has ended, I checked in with Ramirez for his prediction on Saturday night.
“A KO!” the affable Ramirez replies quickly, not a trace of doubt in his voice.
“In which round?” I counter.
Henry thinks for a second and answers with a slight smile, “Early! Like the third or fourth.”
If Team Arreola scores a convincing knockout, will this weekend’s performance be good enough to impress–and silence–his harshest critics?
The jury’s still out.
On May 14 we shall see the results.
Tune in to Showtime on Saturday night as the Arreola vs. Nagy collision takes place before the Ward vs. Abraham matchup in the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
For ticket info: www.ticketmaster.com
Photos by Michele Chong
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